A murder on the high seas. A detective duo. A demon who may or may not exist.
It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported to Amsterdam to be executed for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Travelling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent.
But no sooner are they out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A twice-dead leper stalks the decks. Strange symbols appear on the sails. Livestock is slaughtered.
And then three passengers are marked for death, including Samuel.
Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes?
With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent can solve a mystery that connects every passenger onboard. A mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board.
*I was sent an ARC of this novel via NetGalley and Bloomsbury / Raven imprint, big thank you to them*
The Devil and the Dark Water is a full on dark swashbuckling adventure, with a compelling mystery at its heart which will keep a reader hooked. I read Stuart Turton’s first book The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle last year and really loved it so I was intrigued to see what would come next from this author and I was so impressed by this book. I will say however, that while stylistically or thematically, this book has some similarities to his first book, this book definitely stands up on its own and the two can’t really be compared as they’re so different in nature.
The Devil and the Dark Water is so full of character and so deeply atmospheric at all times that I couldn’t help but feel transported to the time and world of the book and onto the decks of the Saardam. I enjoyed how detailed the description of the setting was, from the ship itself to contextual information of the time period it’s set in (17th century) to clothing and other customs. I also appreciated that the author does touch upon the corrupt and immoral nature of the East India Company and their legacy of colonialism, slavery and exploitation of BIPOC. At no point did I feel like the company were glamorised and they shouldn’t be. If you’re unfamiliar with their role in history, I’d recommend doing some research.
I loved how the mystery element plays out, with clues and details sprinkled throughout and twists and turns galore. There are layers to the thriller aspect here too, with it being unclear whether there is really a demon which has beset the ship and its passengers or whether the answer is slightly more human as well as the smaller mysteries between the different characters. It was also kind of amusing that there’s a skilled detective on the ship – Samuel Pipps- who is imprisoned so his right hand man, Arent has to take over and other characters, also get to play detective. I feel like a real mystery buff may be able to figure out some of the reveals which occur, there were a few I clocked on to but this didn’t dampen any of the enjoyment for me. I also liked how there were several threads within the book which were each engaging to follow and I appreciated how it all interlinked and came to a satisfying close.
I also thought the cast of characters we are introduced to, much like in Turton’s first novel, are all interesting and add a lot to the novel and tone. We have our two main characters; Arent and Sara who take it upon themselves to investigate the strange happenings on the ship and solve the mystery and save everyone else from certain doom. We also have a host of more secondary characters, who are still integral to the plot and serve various functions, from Lia, Sara’s intelligent and quick witted daughter, to Captain Crauwels, who has a reputation for successful voyages and a taste for the finer things in life, to the malevolent governor general Jan Haans, who controls all around him. I definitely rooted for Arent and Sara on their quest to find the truth and enjoyed all their attempts to do so, as well as their burgeoning romance and attraction which has an extra forbidden layer to it due to Sara being married to the governor general.
Overall, The Devil and the Dark Water was a truly thrilling read and I can’t wait to read whatever Stuart Turton writes next. If you’re looking for a good old fashioned mystery / thriller tied in with historical fiction then this is a book you won’t want to miss!
Until next time,